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Home > The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(3)

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(3)
Author: Dan Brown

A single bell chimed on Mal'akh's grandfather clock, and he looked up. Six thirty P.M. Leaving his tools, he wrapped the Kiryu silk robe around his naked, six-foot-three body and strode down the hall. The air inside this sprawling mansion was heavy with the pungent fragrance of his skin dyes and smoke from the beeswax candles he used to sterilize his needles. The towering young man moved down the corridor past priceless Italian antiques--a Piranesi etching, a Savonarola chair, a silver Bugarini oil lamp.

He glanced through a floor-to-ceiling window as he passed, admiring the classical skyline in the distance. The luminous dome of the U.S. Capitol glowed with solemn power against the dark winter sky.

This is where it is hidden, he thought. It is buried out there somewhere.

Few men knew it existed . . . and even fewer knew its awesome power or the ingenious way in which it had been hidden. To this day, it remained this country's greatest untold secret. Those few who did know the truth kept it hidden behind a veil of symbols, legends, and allegory.

Now they have opened their doors to me, Mal'akh thought.

Three weeks ago, in a dark ritual witnessed by America's most influential men, Mal'akh had ascended to the thirty-third degree, the highest echelon of the world's oldest surviving brotherhood. Despite Mal'akh's new rank, the brethren had told him nothing. Nor will they, he knew. That was not how it worked. There were circles within circles . . . brotherhoods within brotherhoods. Even if Mal'akh waited years, he might never earn their ultimate trust.

Fortunately, he did not need their trust to obtain their deepest secret.

My initiation served its purpose.

Now, energized by what lay ahead, he strode toward his bedroom. Throughout his entire home, audio speakers broadcast the eerie strains of a rare recording of a castrato singing the "Lux Aeterna" from the Verdi Requiem--a reminder of a previous life. Mal'akh touched a remote control to bring on the thundering "Dies Irae." Then, against a backdrop of crashing timpani and parallel fifths, he bounded up the marble staircase, his robe billowing as he ascended on sinewy legs.

As he ran, his empty stomach growled in protest. For two days now, Mal'akh had fasted, consuming only water, preparing his body in accordance with the ancient ways. Your hunger will be satisfied by dawn, he reminded himself. Along with your pain.

Mal'akh entered his bedroom sanctuary with reverence, locking the door behind him. As he moved toward his dressing area, he paused, feeling himself drawn to the enormous gilded mirror. Unable to resist, he turned and faced his own reflection. Slowly, as if unwrapping a priceless gift, Mal'akh opened his robe to unveil his naked form. The vision awed him.

I am a masterpiece.

His massive body was shaved and smooth. He lowered his gaze first to his feet, which were tattooed with the scales and talons of a hawk. Above that, his muscular legs were tattooed as carved pillars--his left leg spiraled and his right vertically striated. Boaz and Jachin. His groin and abdomen formed a decorated archway, above which his powerful chest was emblazoned with the double-headed phoenix . . . each head in profile with its visible eye formed by one of Mal'akh's nipples. His shoulders, neck, face, and shaved head were completely covered with an intricate tapestry of ancient symbols and sigils.

I am an artifact . . . an evolving icon.

One mortal man had seen Mal'akh naked, eighteen hours earlier. The man had shouted in fear. "Good God, you're a demon!"

"If you perceive me as such," Mal'akh had replied, understanding as had the ancients that angels and demons were identical--interchangeable archetypes--all a matter of polarity: the guardian angel who conquered your enemy in battle was perceived by your enemy as a demon destroyer.

Mal'akh tipped his face down now and got an oblique view of the top of his head. There, within the crownlike halo, shone a small circle of pale, untattooed flesh. This carefully guarded canvas was Mal'akh's only remaining piece of virgin skin. The sacred space had waited patiently . . . and tonight, it would be filled. Although Mal'akh did not yet possess what he required to complete his masterpiece, he knew the moment was fast approaching.

Exhilarated by his reflection, he could already feel his power growing. He closed his robe and walked to the window, again gazing out at the mystical city before him. It is buried out there somewhere.

Refocusing on the task at hand, Mal'akh went to his dressing table and carefully applied a base of concealer makeup to his face, scalp, and neck until his tattoos had disappeared. Then he donned the special set of clothing and other items he had meticulously prepared for this evening. When he finished, he checked himself in the mirror. Satisfied, he ran a soft palm across his smooth scalp and smiled.

It is out there, he thought. And tonight, one man will help me find it.

As Mal'akh exited his home, he prepared himself for the event that would soon shake the U.S. Capitol Building. He had gone to enormous lengths to arrange all the pieces for tonight.

And now, at last, his final pawn had entered the game.

CHAPTER 3

Robert Langdon was busy reviewing his note cards when the hum of the Town Car's tires changed pitch on the road beneath him. Langdon glanced up, surprised to see where they were.

Memorial Bridge already?

He put down his notes and gazed out at the calm waters of the Potomac passing beneath him. A heavy mist hovered on the surface. Aptly named, Foggy Bottom had always seemed a peculiar site on which to build the nation's capital. Of all the places in the New World, the forefathers had chosen a soggy riverside marsh on which to lay the cornerstone of their utopian society.

Langdon gazed left, across the Tidal Basin, toward the gracefully rounded silhouette of the Jefferson Memorial--America's Pantheon, as many called it. Directly in front of the car, the Lincoln Memorial rose with rigid austerity, its orthogonal lines reminiscent of Athens's ancient Parthenon. But it was farther away that Langdon saw the city's centerpiece--the same spire he had seen from the air. Its architectural inspiration was far, far older than the Romans or the Greeks.

America's Egyptian obelisk.

The monolithic spire of the Washington Monument loomed dead ahead, illuminated against the sky like the majestic mast of a ship. From Langdon's oblique angle, the obelisk appeared ungrounded tonight . . . swaying against the dreary sky as if on an unsteady sea. Langdon felt similarly ungrounded. His visit to Washington had been utterly unexpected. I woke up this morning anticipating a quiet Sunday at home . . . and now I'm a few minutes away from the U.S. Capitol.

This morning at four forty-five, Langdon had plunged into dead-calm water, beginning his day as he always did, swimming fifty laps in the deserted Harvard Pool. His physique was not quite what it had been in his college days as a water-polo all-American, but he was still lean and toned, respectable for a man in his forties. The only difference now was the amount of effort it took Langdon to keep it that way.

When Langdon arrived home around six, he began his morning ritual of hand-grinding Sumatra coffee beans and savoring the exotic scent that filled his kitchen. This morning, however, he was surprised to see the blinking red light on his voice-mail display. Who calls at six A.M. on a Sunday? He pressed the button and listened to the message.

"Good morning, Professor Langdon, I'm terribly sorry for this early-morning call." The polite voice was noticeably hesitant, with a hint of a southern accent. "My name is Anthony Jelbart, and I'm Peter Solomon's executive assistant. Mr. Solomon told me you're an early riser . . . he has been trying to reach you this morning on short notice. As soon as you receive this message, would you be so kind as to call Peter directly? You probably have his new private line, but if not, it's 202-329-5746."

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